When something like the earthquake (it’s already being called “the great earthquake”) of March 11th happens, politicians and the press are always quick to tell us people are panicking, we must be afraid of looters and that they can’t tell us the truth because if we find it out, we’ll panic and more will die.
I simply do not believe that to be true. Sure, desperate and hungry people in Haiti broke into derelict shops to get at the food inside that would otherwise have been wasted, but is that really “looting”? And, yes, occasional scuffles break out by the sides of supply trucks over the meagre quantities of food and water available whenever something like this occurs, but is that really “rioting”? Meanwhile, we hear stories of people in shelters with one rice ball and a quater of a sausage per day, while they wait for more food to arrive, but they aren’t fighting over the small supply – they are pulling together to get everyone through to when more supplies will arrive. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of people sitting quietly and patiently in shelters waiting for help to arrive isn’t as newsworthy as the small minority who have let their understandably strong emotions briefly get the better of them, and so that is the story we hear.
I have heard many people say that the extraordinarily calm response from the Japanese people is down to their unusual psyche. I actually find that a somewhat racist attitude. It is a sort of positive discrimination founded on the belief that “they” are different from “us” but promulgated in a PC world where to give that difference a negative slant is frowned upon. So we go out of our way to make it a positive difference, completely missing the point that it is still highlighting a perceived difference for which there is no evidence and born of our tribal and divisive instinct. We are getting the calm narrative this time because Japan is so well connected to the internet that there are videos and photos everywhere and the press can’t control the narrative the way they could with Haiti or China. The only thing extraordinary about the Japanese psyche is how similar it is to every other human psyche in the world.
During the second world war, people in London faced with the horrors of the blitz pulled together; the communities forged in the heat of those fires lasted long after the battles had stopped. Everywhere a group is threatened, the instinctive response is to come together and work for each other. Every time there is a major disaster, NGOs are tripping over well-meaning volunteers. Sadly, they usually end up hampering the recovery, but their instinct wasn’t to take advantage or to profit, it was to help in whatever way they could.
Japan isn’t unusual in this, it is in all of us everywhere.
And so, somehow, and without really being sure how it happened, I appear to have signed up to do the Yamathon this Saturday in order to raise money for Oxfam’s tsunami relief effort.
It’s short notice, and there’s no provision for setting up online sponsorship, but if you wanted to sponsor me, drop me a line and I’m sure we can figure out a way.
We have to take photos at every station along the way, so I’m sure a blog post detailing my adventure will appear at some point in the next few weeks.